Balzac’s is a local chain of coffee joints. They’re very popular and they make good coffee in all its wondrous forms. They have delicious snacks, too – I recommend the big peanut-butter parallelepipeds. And their locations are all nice looking, each in its own way. There are at least three of their outposts in walking distance from me, depending on what you consider walking distance. But I don’t often go to them to sit and work – especially not to the two nearest me.
The closest one is on Market Street. It’s right across from the St. Lawrence Market and I sometimes stop in to get a coffee there… to take out. I rarely sit down, for two reasons: it’s kind of a cave, even if a pretty one; and it’s usually too damn busy. The next closest is in the Distillery District, and I think it’s the original Balzac’s. It’s in an old brick former industrial building, high ceilings, two levels, very cute. And busy as fu…geddaboudit. I’ve sat and worked in there once or twice, and it can be amusing to overhear the tourists at nearby tables, but there are other places in the vicinity that are calmer.
The one I do make a point of going to every so often is on Gould Street in the heart of Rye High. I mean Ryerson University. (I can joke about it. My wife works there.) It’s bright and appealing: the walls are white tile and floral wallpaper on two sides, floor-to-ceiling windows on the other two; the floor is nice geometric tiles in calming colours; the ceiling is painted white, even the ductwork; and, along with the six marble-topped two-seater tables by the north window and the bar with ten stools along the east window, there are three large blonde-wood tables with about a dozen chairs each in the middle of the whole place. Which means that when it’s not too too busy you can work with books open next to you.
When it’s not too too busy. It can get busy at times, being as it’s in the middle of a university in the middle of a city. But universities have their seasons and their busy and calm days. I had no trouble getting a seat at a long table today, and I could even have sat by the window if I wanted – but I didn’t, because books.
The people-watching is great. People – especially students and some professors – come in and out all the time, and even more walk past on Gould. You will never run out of people to glance at as they pass by. Do try not to stare, though. If you want to stare at people, go next door to the Ryerson Image Centre’s galleries and look at photos of them. It’s free. You definitely should while you’re on the block. (If you don’t like good photographs, you are not my kind of person.)
This level of traffic also means that even in the quietest moments it’s not quiet, because there are no quietest moments here. There’s always noise. If for some reason the patrons aren’t talking much, the staff still will be. But it’s enough noise to make a horsehair blanket of sound, mostly keeping any one thing from being too distracting. And the music is… acceptable. Tolerable indefinitely. It won’t energize you, but it won’t piss you off, either.
Oh, and this coffice space is fully accessible to everyone regardless of mobility, even the washrooms. One caution, though: the obvious entrance on Gould has a single step, of the sort I think some places use as a sobriety test. If a step is an issue, you will need to go around the corner to the side entrance on Bond Street.
Ha ha. They’re at Gould and Bond. Sounds like a medicated powder, doesn’t it? But of course the medications they sell here come by the liquid cup. And they’re good enough to get to take away – and maybe sit by the little pond nearby. It’s nicer in the summer, of course, but in the winter, at lunch time, you may – if you are among the lucky and blessed – get to see my wife, the former professional figure skater, indulging in a little leisure with knife-boots on her feet.